Life is dramatic; it can really put you through the paces. Sometimes life is lovely, and sometimes life can be completely heart-breaking.
When you have loved ones and friends that suffer the slings and arrows of life, sometimes you go through it at the same time, but in a different way. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all play the hero and just swoop in and save those we love from trials and pain?
The truth is, not even Superman can save everyone. Helplessness is a part of life, and often, we are left waiting to see how it all plays out.
The following is a true story written about life in 2012. Nonfiction is just as important as fiction when telling a story is necessary. Never discount the power of real life struggles. I wish I could say there was a happy ending beyond this piece, but life is still playing out beyond the page. The story right now is the same--I am waiting for another 'ribbit.' Let us all hope for the best.
I check the screen a thousand and one times. Where is she? We have chatted every day online for years and this silence is nerve racking. There is a nasty lurching in the pit of my stomach. My appetite wanes and I begin to feel incredibly anxious. Where is Sylvia?
Our last chat had been March 29th. The discussion was sparse and clipped; her words had letters in all the wrong places and sentences dropped off cliffs. It was apparent that something was wrong. She told me that she couldn’t breathe and that she would be back, but she didn’t come back. The chat window remains open on her end while I make comically rude and shocking comments to see if she will bite, as she usually does, but there is nothing this time.
I wait and check, and wait and inquire, and wait. And then my worry becomes real fear—something is terribly wrong. Days of endless wondering float by and at night my eyes stay wide and fixed on the clock…the ceiling…the computer screen until a blinking on the screen makes my heart stop.
Inside the social network blinks a message notification from Lee, Sylvia’s husband. A knot forms in my throat as I hesitate before clicking on the screen.
Lee: “Hi Dani.”
My palms feel like they contain every drop of sweat ever made and the sting of tears threatens to consume my eyes. There is no pretense to my question. I know the answer will shake me, but a yearning to know drives my fingers into action on the keyboard.
Me: “Hello. Is Syl OK?”
My breath caught as I wait for the answer. I am betrayed by my curiosity in less than a moment’s lapse.
Lee: “No. she's in ICU [at the moment] with a collapsed lung, and they're not sure if she's going to make it [through]. She's apparently had Pneumonia for the better part of a week and they didn't catch it the 1st time we took her to the ER.”
Lee: “I'm trying to contact the people she cares about the most to let them know what's going on. I saw you were on and thought you should be one of those I contacted.”
Me: “OMG Lee. Thank You...please, tell her I need her to fight.”
Lee: “If she regains consciousness I will [definitely] tell her.”
My face is a blank canvas while the conversation passes back and forth across the screen. My husband sits in bed next to me, oblivious to the news I am receiving until my pained wail breaks the usual inane speech of the television and whirring of our respective computers.
It is April 1st and the hope that the news is a twisted joke is smothered by the mockery of reality. I am broken; helpless. Here I am, Lee’s only bridge to the outside world and I feel inadequate and impotent. Syl is in Texas and here I, her other childhood friends, and family are— in Maryland — too far away to rush to her side. I throw myself into action, rallying the mutual friends that I am virtually connected with and wait. My voice wavers slightly, although I try to keep it steady as I leave a voicemail for Sylvia’s sister. A precious life hangs in the balance.
There is nothing easy about waiting. It is agony when all else is on hold and time fights against you, but Karin’s voice is calm when she hears me answer. My voice cracks as uncontrollable sobbing takes over, but always the strong and rooted one in a difficult situation, Karin calms me and I impart vital information to her. The news is grave.
Syl is still in a coma, her lungs— collapsed, and they don’t think she will pull through. As the news spreads, an outward ripple of support reaches through our family and friends, and flows back to Texas. Old disputes are quashed, animosity ceases, and icy shoulders melt away for the only person that matters.
Once, we frolicked and sang through Middle School Honors Chorus; two people sharing a love of music and writing. My mother and her sister get so tired of us talking on the phone every night, and sometimes sneakily chatting into the wee hours of the morning.
The year is 1989. Sylvia and I joke and guffaw for hours on the phone, and even under the influence of antibiotics we never lose our knack for the incredibly silly.
“Yellow!” She says when she answers the phone.
“Red!” I reply back in a sing-song tone.
Vampires, werewolves and ideas that develop into detailed personalities spring from our joined imaginations. Plenty of inside jokes that no one else understands confounds the rest of creation. Orinians dance in our brains and take over the roles of ancient Greek Gods while historical figures and their lives are usurped for our purposes.
“Stop picking my brain,” we utter as we think up the same things— always in sync.
We read Stephen King and Peter Straub’s “Talisman” together, laughing at the fanciful and scary creatures he draws into our consciousness, and spin a new world for the characters in ‘what if’ fashion.
Sylvia is ever the intellectual debater, with a pearly Cheshire cat grin that spreads across the gambit of her dark chocolate face. You know a zinger is coming your way if that smile cracks before any words escape her hold. Her infectiously genuine laugh fills a room and makes you forget whatever is bringing you down at any given moment. She pals around with a rather motley group of nerdy male rogues that can hold their own in a battle of wits. She is the Tinkerbell to their Lost Boys and I know them all only by voice over the phone. In fact, it isn’t until my senior year in high school that the disembodied voices find their faces staring back at mine, puzzled.
“You’re black? They say and laugh.
It had honestly never occurred to them that there was another well-spoken black girl in all of Prince George’s County, Maryland. The joke is on them, I guess. We take it all in stride and laugh about the truth of coming face to face with what your mind has concocted. There are no disappointments, only happy surprises. They are the ones I will have to break the news to in due course.
As for Syl and I, we always knew the surprises of imagination versus the truth of the world all too well. Our own characters were everything we were not— invulnerable to sickness and rapid aging; powerful enough to fight off , face down, and defeat their enemies; rich—and the differences between us and those characters would become more abundantly clear as the years went by and the complications of adult life took over.
There came times where Sylvia and I didn’t speak, not because we were at odds per se, but because that is just life. Boyfriends come along, college happens, work gets in the way, and other complications crop up, but the love and friendship are still there. Time and space are concepts, but a true bond resists such things. We would always find our way back to chatting and pick up where we left off no matter what time threw at us. But every bond has its test.
So, as adulthood swept its way down the mountain of life, Syl moves to Texas with her boyfriend, eager for a new start, and I get married and join the societal beehive of workers that keeps me miserably buzzing along. One year shy of a decade in the “Lone Star” state jobless, and struggling Syl and her family descend into the clutches of poverty with just enough assistance to stay connected to the outer world via the internet. And although there are a few radio-silence periods, courtesy of financial hardship, we always rebound and strike up the band right where we left off, adding new chapters to life and spinning new webs of ideas. As time moves, Syl and her husband add a little rascal to their family and having long since thrown off the humidity of the east coast, their son is a born product of Texas living. Time, however, doesn’t care about the fortunes of humanity, and bills weighed down the heart of Texas while the mind of Maryland suffered in other ways.
My brain goes into a tailspin with the constant demands of labor until a different kind of labor opens my eyes. Once I give birth to my son, he becomes the all-consuming being of importance at the center of my world, which means my long-standing burden of faulty employment must be released. However, my stubbornness and misplaced loyalty, virulent to the core, kept me hanging on for just long enough until it is time to pursue the career that Sylvia and I have longed for. Oh to be a spinner of stories, and dance with words! It is grand, and my friend encourages me as we continue to climb to new heights of imagination. But now the memories of imagination come crashing back into reality, and they are phantoms as we move back into the present.
Twenty-four years have flashed by in mere moments and yet, I wait as the days inch by like flies swimming through molasses. There is little change. I bargain and plead with the man upstairs (if you believe in that kind of thing) to stop being so unfair. And then, finally, April 7th, 2012 rolls around. I wait for the same old news until that familiar blinking gets my attention. I mutter a silent litany of pleas for something different, something better, but the voice in my head speaks the language of doom. I suck in every heavy particle of air around me.
“Please God, don’t let her be gone.”
The news is good. Syl has been brought around, but she battles ventilator tubes and looks at the doctors with suspicion while I wait in cyber-limbo. Hey, who likes waking up with tubes down their throat and doctors hovering above them, right? Nevertheless, hope replaces dread on the throne of my mind when the screen blinks. I check eagerly and often now, pacing the floor with a thousand butterflies in my brain.
The April 12th blink gets me and I hop onto the bed, ready for anything. I have been given the key to the tower. I think up what to say, what clever quip I can spring on a fragile mind without doing damage. I prepare myself for anything.
She sounds like a frog— and yes, it is the most glorious frog that ever uttered a ‘ribbit’ anywhere.
“Yellow,” I say.
“Red,” She croaks back.
Even with the whisper of the oxygen pump beneath every breath we gab our way past a nurse or three. I wait for that April fools punch line to hit and I get the giddiest reward of all: her laughter. You just can’t beat that pill.